New Orleans I have been a subscriber to the NACLA Report on the Americas for a decade or so and a reader for longer than that every time I would run into a copy. Produced by the North American Congress for Latin America since 1967, the Report at its best offered insightful on-the-ground analysis of developing currents in Latin American countries from thoughtful correspondents, academics, and the occasional activist. If you were organizing in Latin America or trying to keep up with various efforts to create change there, you wanted to make sure you got a copy at your doorstep and carried it around with you until you finished the whole issue. All of which made it sad and somewhat disappointing to get a letter from the NACLA people saying that after almost 50 years they were going to cease printing and go on-line only after the February issue of this year.
Their argument was simple. They cite “prohibitively expensive printing costs,” which means money, and they argue that the world has gone to the web, and that’s where they will live in the future. Certainly they are not alone. All print, including of course our own Social Policy, live on the web as well. They argue that consumers “just buy the few articles or songs that interest us most. And when an article moves us, we share it through Facebook and email.…” That argument sounds like the every-once-in-awhile Times-Picayune or the normal woe-is-me-and-my-job story from journalism schools.
When commercial enterprises go on-line-only they are usually willing to sacrifice the amount of the paper, or “product” as they would call it, that a reader absorbs because their advertising departments are selling eyeballs to their buyers in the hopes that a reader will read less, click on an ad, and buy more. Actually communicating, much less moving the reader, which has been part of the mission of NACLA, takes a backseat. In reality any of us that have looked at the analytics on our websites have to be very sober and not fall in love with the number of unique viewers that are visiting our sites, but the time they are spending on the site. For a publication, whether the Report on the Americas or Social Policy, when we see people are spending an average of less than 3 minutes on the site, we can be pretty sure they aren’t reading that much of any article. They are bonding with the publication, its content, and message pretty much on the order of “headline news.” NACLA doesn’t sell the eyeballs to advertisers any more than we do, so it’s all about the readers. Truth to tell, when there is no copy of the journal at hand or in the backpack or carryall, we have to be honest about how much we are diluting our message living only on our websites, Facebook, and Twitter.
And, that’s sad to me and makes the letter from NACLA worth mourning.
The publication began as a newsletter. Maybe they need to go back to the mimeograph and Xerox copies through the mail again and remember that the mission is all that still matters? Or maybe I’m a hopeless romantic tilting at windmills still? Who knows, but I’ll miss the Report as will many who understand the importance of Latin America and the key role the Report has played for decades in communicating the struggles for change there.
In keeping with our theme of pro-labor union songs, please enjoy Hazel Dickens’ The Rebel Girl.